Site icon E. G. Bella

What I’m Learning About Perfectionism

Hello from underneath a pile of outlines, character sheets, and plot points!

Don’t be concerned. I’m doing this to myself, and quite excited to be.

Like thousands of other writers around the world, I’m preparing to take part in NaNoWriMo. 1 This is an acronym for National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write 50,000 words – the minimum wordcount of a novel – in 30 days. From November 1st through November 30th, our fingers are (hopefully!) flying across keyboards, churning out a story that will be very rough, but existent all the same.

By December, the goal is to have a full rough draft of our novel. From there we can edit and revise as we please, basking in the glorious messiness, and thrilled with the fact that we managed something so many people dream of – and in only thirty days!

I made a half-hearted attempt at this last year, and though I didn’t manage a whole novel, I made solid progress. Enough to motivate me to try it this year.

As I’ve been plotting my story, I’ve done several character development exercises. The most recent was making a list of my protagonist’s twenty worst fears.

At first glance it didn’t seem so hard. But as I started brainstorming, I realized that most people really don’t have that many fears. There are only so many critters, times of day, and locations someone can be made nervous by. Especially in this case, when my character is known for his courage.

So what is it that he fears? The helpful challenge of coming up with twenty things is that it forced me to go deeper, to examine his most intimate and hidden fears. The things he doesn’t want to have happen. The feelings he doesn’t want to show. The people he doesn’t want to be like.

An interesting perk to being a writer is that, as I develop characters, I am able to apply the same development activities to myself. I started thinking about what my fears are, and what my list would look like. As I got past the shallower things, like spiders and darkness, it became difficult to face some of them.

One of my greatest fears is perfectionism.

Not that I’m afraid of perfectionism itself, although sometimes I can be.

To me, perfectionism is a type of fear. I feel as if I need to be perfect, to act perfect, to say the perfect things, all the time. The thought of doing anything less scares me. And failure to live up to those self-imposed standards often cripples me with guilt. I end up resenting myself for my mistakes and slip-ups.

For a long time, I thought being a perfectionist was a good thing. “At least I’m not flippant or careless,” I figured. When I do something, I throw my heart and soul into it. If it’s not perfect, it’s not done. Isn’t that a good mindset to have?

Well, as I’ve been discovering the past couple of years, it’s not. Maybe this seems obvious to you. Maybe you’ve never struggled with the snares of perfectionism.

But maybe you have.

Maybe you procrastinate doing things you want to do, because you figure you can’t do them justice. Maybe you shy away from offering words of comfort or encouragement, because you’re scared of messing them up. Maybe you inwardly beat yourself up for every mistake, every slip of the tongue, and every blunder.

I understand. I’ve been there. I’m still there.

But I’m learning.

I’m learning that it’s okay not to be perfect. It’s okay when not every detail is immaculate. It’s okay to make mistakes. And it’s okay to be vulnerable and honest about how you feel when you do.

For years, perfectionism has kept me from sharing what I create. Anything I write goes through approximately 391,058,179 drafts – give or take – before I even think about letting others read it. A song has to be practiced at least that many times before I ever consider singing it in front of anyone. Anything I draw, cook, or crochet has to look, taste, and feel, perfect.

I thought this was care on my part. I thought it was love, to not let anyone view something imperfect. I’ve been adamant. People deserve my best.

But my best is imperfect. Yours is too. No matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we work, and no matter how much time we put into something, we’ll never produce something of perfection.

We’re not perfect. There’s only ever been one human who was – and He wasn’t just human.

Perfection is solely God’s. God is perfection. Someday, in Heaven, in God’s full presence, we’ll be able to experience that perfection too.

But for now, we’re still imperfect. We’re still living in an imperfect world, with imperfect bodies, and imperfect minds. Rather than let those truths depress us, we should allow them to liberate us.

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He knows us entirely. He remembers that we’re “only dust”. 2 He doesn’t ask us to be perfect.

He asks us to try. He asks us to follow Him, to listen to His voice, and to do our best to carry out His will.

That’s what I’m learning. I’m learning to come to peace with the fact that my best is imperfect. I’m learning that something doesn’t have to be perfect to be very good. Even imperfect works can glorify God.

A creation doesn’t have to be perfect to be inspiring. A note of encouragement doesn’t have to be perfect to brighten someone’s day. A meal doesn’t have to be perfect to fill someone’s stomach (and taste amazing).

God is honored and people are blessed when we simply try our best. God will fill in the gaps. He’ll work with our weaknesses. And He’ll cherish our efforts.

The important thing is that we’re doing it for Him.

I’m still learning this. I’m still far from believing it, not just with my head, but with my whole heart too. I’m still struggling to throw off the chains of perfectionism and let God be the perfect one.

I look forward to the day when the things I do, say, and make are perfect. Even as I learn to share the imperfect parts of myself, and the imperfect creations of my heart and hands, I long to be free from error.

But for now, right here, in this moment, I’m not perfect.

And that’s okay.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ’s power may rest on me…
For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV)

  1. You can learn more about NaNoWriMo at their website: here.
  2. Psalm 103:13-14 NLT

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